Former Kettering Town and Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper and now Northants FA chief executive Kevin Shoemake speaks about his hopes for the future of football

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TUCKED away in a quiet corner of the Moulton Park industrial estate lies an association that could play a part in England one day winning the World Cup.

An association that controls more than 600 clubs and 20,000 players.

An association that has the future of football in Northamptonshire at it’s fingertips.

But that association - the Northants FA - has a big job on its hands to help translate promise into actual success. Success which could eventually aid England on an international stage.

With the likes of Spain and Germany now seemingly setting the standard, the nation which created the beautiful game is falling behind.

“We’re not the pioneers any more,” said Northants FA chief executive Kevin Shoemake, the man charged with putting the English governing body’s plans in place in the local arena.

“That’s a fact on the international stage.”

Cue the reform.

England are desperately trying to alter mentality from top to bottom, from young to old.

Talk of flowing football, rather than hoofball, is prevalent. It seems the Spanish style is now in vogue.

Barcelona are dominating the European football arena, playing a style of football usually reserved for the yellow shirts of Brazil.

And the Spanish national side are currently European and world champions after back-to-back triumphs in 2008 and 2010.

England, though, continue to falter, seemingly devoid of ideas and continually outplayed when the going gets tough in the knockout stages of major tournaments.

They were embarrassed by a fresh, exciting Germany side in the last 16 of last year’s World Cup.

A 4-1 defeat left a sour taste in the mouths of a proud nation. And to compound that demolition in Bloemfontein, the German side which took to the field had history of putting the Three Lions to the sword.

Just a year earlier, Stuart Pearce’s Young Lions – the England Under-21 side – were savagely crushed by the old enemy in the final of the European Under-21 Championships.

The side which conquered them 4-0 in Malmo contained four players – Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil – that went on to star in Bloemfontein.

It was clear, if it hadn’t been before, how much of a role age group international football plays in the development of world-beating national sides.

And the misery hasn’t relented for the Three Lions.

England have endured a sorry summer this time round. Their under-17 side went down to a 4-3 defeat against Germany at the World Cup in Mexico earlier this month and then there was the huge disappointment of the recent European Under-21 Championships in Denmark.

Pearce’s new look Young Lions, touted by many as favourites for the title, were sent packing by the Czech Republic in the final group game.

Note that Spain, who drew with England 1-1 in their opening game of the tournament, went on to take the title in style with a final win against an impressive Switzerland side.

So for those in charge of the Three Lions at every level it’s back to the drawing board.

In 2013 the Football Association will implement the most radical shake-up of grass roots football ever seen.

Their new head of elite development, Gareth Southgate, recently unveiled a scheme which has moved the goalposts, or rather reduced the size of them, for youth development.

It will fundamentally change everything about the way the game is played: From goal and pitch sizes to team numbers, league formats and age calculations.

Children will play in games and on pitch sizes which are appropriate for their age.

It is hoped the new format will give players more touches and a much greater chance of showcasing their skills.

Enter Shoemake and the Northants FA.

Along with their counterparts across the country, they will be charged with a key task. Persuasion.

“It’s our job to promote that (the FA’s new grass roots scheme) and to convince people that’s the way forward because the game has doubters,” said Shoemake.

“Football has evolved over a number of years and we are producing players, don’t get me wrong, we are producing good players for of Premier League or league standard but I think we could produce better players with a better idea or philosophy if we introduce that transition.

“But it’s going to be a slow process.

“There’s marking of pitches, there’s the cost of it and there’s convincing the league’s that it’s the right step, which we’re a long way down the road of doing because the leagues round here are very receptive to those ideas.

“Then it’s convincing the coaches and the parents it’s the right way to do it and then there’s the players themselves, so it’s a bit of a culture change.

“There’s a lot of PR involved. Obviously the leagues and the clubs do a lot of investigation themselves, we’re just the point of reference, the support tool.

“We can negotiate with the local authorities and drive down the cost of participation, which is escalating as everything else is.

“We’ve got to be conscious of that. But there is a bit of PR involved.”

If there is an ideal man for the job, though, it is Shoemake. Primarily, because he has played the game at a professional level.

The goalkeeper strutted his stuff for Peterborough United, Rushden & Diamonds and Kettering Town.

He’s not just a man in a suit, professing to know the ins and outs of the biggest sport in the world.

He’s been there, seen it, played it.

Another key element is his personable nature.

Whereas some footballers can be difficult to deal with, possessing a striking sense of self-importance, Shoemake is different.

“I’ve always had an interest in the business side of it,” he said. “My parents were publicans, I worked in the pub when I was legally able to.

“When I joined the pro ranks and the semi-pro ranks, I always worked at a friend’s construction company, flooring company, delivering stuff to go out there and join the real world really.

“I never took myself out of the real world at any point, which was good and bad because I still had my feet firmly on the ground.

“It’s got harder over the years, there weren’t the rewards then that there are now. But times move on. I wouldn’t change anything.

“I had a fantastic career and those experiences can only help the role. I understand football, I understand the role and I’m now learning the other side of it.”

Shoemake will have to use all of that understanding if he is to help make the schemes of his bosses work in the local community and he will also have to put his own philosophy in place.

One thing he’s aiming to focus on in his role as chief executive is futsal, a game many people in England will be unfamiliar with.

For information, futsal is a variant of association football, which is played on a smaller pitch, mainly indoors.

Two teams of five players battle it out on a hard court surface with a smaller ball which is far heavier than a standard football.

It means playing the long-ball is very tricky.

That results in improved technique as short, quick passing in small spaces pays dividends. One look at the world rankings of futsal tells a shocking tale for our national grasp of the game.

England are languishing down in 88th, one place below Myanmar and two below the big-hitters of New Caledonia.

So which team tops the list? It almost goes without saying doesn’t it?

If not... it’s Spain.

Second? Brazil.

And they’re a massive distance ahead of Italy in third.

Shoemake sees the Latino domination of the sport as telling, with England’s lack of expertise one of the main reasons they continually resort to a long ball game in 11-a-side rather than relying on technique when put under pressure.

And if you need justification for his belief, you only have to head down to Moulton College, where the England team occasionally train.

Shoemake, who took over from David Payne as Northants FA chief executive in February, said: “I’ve been recently introduced to the futsal game, which Brazil have been playing for 90-odd, 100 years. And Spain... it’s in their culture.

“England are currently 88th in the world and considering we developed this game right from scratch it’s a bit of a surprise.

“Countries have been taking a lead in different formats and having now seen futsal being played at an international level at Moulton College, which is on our doorstep, and seeing the futsal facility there that England quite regularly use as a training base, and seeing them in operation, we’re keen to generate more futsal. But again, that’s long term.

“We can’t be asking a 15, 16-year-old to be playing futsal for a season and all of a sudden their skills will be at a certain level that they’ll go on and play for Northampton and Peterborough at those different levels.

“That’s not going to be possible as much as we like it.

“We’re going to have to introduce futsal into the county. We’re one of seven counties nationally that have been given a pilot fund to develop futsal.”

But while all the talk is of change, Shoemake has urged caution. He doesn’t want to see the facets of the beautiful game England excel in lost.

While the Spanish are skilful, England are strong. The Spanish have technique, England have aggression.

And Shoemake has issued some advice for some of his Football Association colleagues who are starting to cite the Spanish system as a model for success.

“We have been producing players,” he emphasised.

“We’re one of the top teams in the world. We’ve regularly been in the top five of the FIFA rankings so we’re doing well and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We are behind some of the countries who have been developing players that are on a world stage now. And teams as well, that’s the beauty of it.

“They’re not just picking one or two players that have been playing futsal for example, it’s whole teams that are being brought up on that philosophy.

“So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, just learn from those experiences, change things that you think will benefit.

“Try it, test it, if it doesn’t work adapt as any business would whether it’s in a sporting environment or a computer manufacturer.”

And if it is to work,the Northants FA and Shoemake will have a big role to play.